"Along with dreaming of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, Netaji had also dreamt of ‘Sonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal). Come, let us resolve to create that," were the closing words of Prime Minister Modi’s epochal address at the Victoria Memorial grounds in Kolkata on January 23 when he launched the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Prime Minister Modi’s address was an epic address reflecting and articulating the deeper sentiments and emotions of the nation when it comes to Netaji and his life and legacy.
It was also a perfect contextualisation of Netaji today, especially at a time when India is moving, in steady steps towards realising self-reliance in various fields. Netaji stood for a self-reliant India and that march towards that national goal is increasingly visible. Prime Minister Modi’s designation of Netaji’s birthday as ‘Parakram Divas’ has been widely welcomed, especially by the people of West Bengal. Most are not moved or bothered with the political and intellectual opposition to this description; for the majority of Indians, Netaji lives in their hearts and psyche as an embodiment of parakram and therefore there could not be a more apt conferment.
Ironically, while people accept this, a select group of political parties, who have a record of either insulting his legacy, ignoring it, or trying to marginalise it, are the ones who are moaning that parakram has been used to describe Netaji. In fact, parakram is an integral description of him. It exudes a perennial and self-renewing dynamism. It has a force of its own. It symbolises the aspiration and urge to keep contextualising Netaji for every generation and context. In an India that is proactively situating herself in the world, this is of cardinal importance and every stanza of the Prime Minister’s address did exactly that. The Congress, the communist parties and myopic political outfits like the Trinamool Congress, which has given up on any semblance of having a regional perspective and approach that synergises with larger national goals, have opposed this declaration.
However, their new-found reverence for Netaji exposes their inherent opposition to him and their neglect of his legacy. The Trinamool Congress, for instance, did nothing to alter history textbooks in the state which were framed during the communist regime and which had deliberately ignored or minimised Netaji’s epochal contribution in order to overshadow his legacy. These textbooks were never changed by Mamata Banerjee’s regime and she had arrived at an understanding with the Left having left the business of education in their control. Her grandstanding thus, in opposing ‘Parakram Divas’, is laced with extreme opportunism and is cheap political adventurism.
There was another deeper symbolism and aura in Prime Minister Modi’s words on Netaji spoken on the soil of West Bengal, in Netaji’s city of Kolkata, especially his reference to Sonar Bangla. Netaji, like a galaxy of Bengal’s thought and political leaders, continues to be a symbol of Sonar Bangla. At a time when West Bengal is at the crossroads once more and is faced with a plethora of challenges that are existential in nature, the PM’s call to determinedly dedicate ourselves to realising Netaji’s vision of Sonar Bangla is deeply symbolic. It expresses the actual aspiration of West Bengal at this point.
In course of the ‘Lokkho Sonar Bangla’ (Aim for Sonar Bangla) campaign across West Bengal initiated by the BJP; one sees the resonance that this term, which is intrinsic to the cultural context and soul of Bengal, creates in the minds of the Bengali intelligentsia in the hinterlands of the state. For five decades—34 years of debilitating and intellectually and industrially stunting communist rule which saw the flight of capital, of imagination and of application from the state to an even more degenerative and violent Trinamool Congress—the state was not imparted a comprehensive governance vision and plan for its growth and, more importantly, kept sliding in crucial fields while political claptrap, hollow slogans of ‘world revolution’, ‘maa-mati-maanush’ and ‘global Bengal’ were thought sufficient by political parties which ruled the state in the last five decades, to keep the people preoccupied and controlled.
Mamata Banerjee’s volatile and unimaginative governance approach has completely steamrolled the dignity of the ordinary Bengali. In West Bengal today, it is criminalisation of politics, politicisation of administration and a set of rules for the princelings of the ruling party and another for the ordinary electorate. Dole politics, politics of non-performance, refusal to be accountable to people, and an insistence on making them feel dependent dominate, and people are restless, desperate to be free from these corroding shackles. In Modi’s call for ‘Sonar Bangla’, people of West Bengal discern a vision, a roadmap for the state to eventually rise out of the morass and they know that parakram is the first attribute needed to actualise this.
Anirban Ganguly Twitter: @anirbanganguly
Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation